David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 233: Mary Black (Song For Ireland)

March 10, 2023

For a time there in the mid 1990s, one couldn't escape Celtic influences. I certainly don't mean that team in Boston, where Bird had retired and the famed floor of the Boston Garden wasn't enough to stop the team from moving to the Fleet Center.

No, it all centered on Feet, fleet as they were, Michael Flatley's feet. Riverdance and then Lord of the Dance were impossible to escape, and all of a sudden all things Gaellic and Celtic imbued everything, especially music. 1995 found any number of musicians from around the world recording with The Chieftains, the Irish instrumentalists, who had been putting out traditional Irish recordings since 1964. In 1995, right as the world is awash in Riverdance, The Chieftains released The Long Black Veil, probably the band's best-selling album, supported by musicians ranging from Van Morrison to Mick Jagger to Mark Knopfler to Sinead O'Connor to Sting. The Long Black Veil was an easy entree into the Gaellic/Celtic world music I might have been ignoring.

However, the best music to come out of that Celtic/Gaellic wave was Women Of The World: Celtic, the 1995 compilation with the female singers from Clannad, Capercaille, and Altan, among others, presenting a series of songs more traditional to Irish lore than what The Chieftains had covered. And at the end of Women Of The World: Celtic resided the loveliest song ever about Ireland: Mary Black's version of "Song For Ireland."

The song was over a decade old by the time I got it from this compilation album, Black's version here pulled from her 1984 album Collected, at the time a cover of The Dubliners' original release just a year earlier. The Dubliners infused it with the Irish instrumentation one would expect, tin whistle, banjo, fiddle.

Black's version downplays traditional Irish instruments, unless you count her amazing voice over a simple sequence of piano chords. Fiddle and mandolin exist at the peripheries, providing underlying textures that highlight her voice and the piano. It was impossible not to focus on her amazing pipes.

The problem was that Women Of The World: Celtic provided no lyric sheet (who knows what I might have read for Máire Breatnach's "Breatnaigh Abú"), and so even though Black's was one of a half dozen songs on the CD that had entirely English lyrics, I was straining to figure out the specifics. And you know me, the word guy, I had to know the lyrics. Without them, I did my best Bill Fleming impersonation: "making up whatever I think I heard."

Who knew that "Stood on Dickle bitching kind wild oats we found Atlantic back" was really "Stood on Dingle Beach and cast in wild foam we found Atlantic Bass"? While my original mangled line was, well, really mangled and meaningless, the actual line praised . . .  fish! Once I found the full lyrics, I began to realize the Irish must be almost unhealthily fascinated by their wildlife. "Song For Ireland" features, beyond the Atlantic bass, Galway salmon, and falcons turning and twisting in the sky.

Given that William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming" may be one of the finest poems ever written, I now must wonder about "Song Of Ireland"'s connection with "turning and turning" falcons in "the widening gyre." Damn it, I suppose there is something fierce in the Irish spirit. (How conveniently I might forget the IRA.)

Ultimately the chorus of "Song For Ireland" is breathtakingly beautiful, especially as Black belts out the lyrics:

Living on your western shore/

Saw summer sunsets, asked for more/

I stood by your Atlantic Sea/

And sang a song for Ireland.

Black ended up as the only long-standing product of the Irish/Scottish wave in the Fleming household. She released a pretty good straightforward rock album, Shine, alongside releases of more traditional Irish music. I don't know if the Flemings ever discover her if not for that leprechaun, Michael Flatley. Of course, now we live in Notre Dame country, so the Irish are impossible to ignore. I wish they had gone with the Fighting Falcons, much less obnoxious than that leprechaun.

Black, Mary. "Song For Ireland. Women Of The World: Celtic. Putumayo World Music, 1995. Link here.

Day 232: Lynyrd Skynyrd "That Smell"

Day 234: Gang Of Four "At Home He's A Tourist"

See complete list here.